A Renewed Focus on Terroir at Mas Jullien

Posted on Posted in Rosenthal Wine Merchant News

“Take the time necessary to allow nature to complete its work; accompany the life of the wine without directing it, accepting the risks and differences.”—Olivier Jullien

While we at Rosenthal Wine Merchant are steadfast in our dedication to the notion of terroir, we also acknowledge that the very greatest of wines are stewarded into existence by human beings of uncommon vision, spirit, and intelligence. In certain areas like Burgundy, where intricate vineyard knowledge crystallized over centuries of intense focus and single-mindedness, it’s easier for such vignerons to shine brightly—having already internalized the lofty pedigree of Burgundian terroir, the wine world can revel comfortably in its growers’ displays of brilliance.

In regions less historically heralded for producing noble wines, visionaries are more rare and sometimes overlooked. Take, for instance, Olivier Jullien, founder and owner of Mas Jullien in the Languedoc. Olivier came of age in the late 1970s, a period during which the winegrowing culture of the Languedoc was at a nadir, mired in the abyss of overproduction. Olivier’s father, Jean-Pierre, a dedicated and talented grape-grower in Jonquieres, had thrown in his lot with the local cooperative.  Olivier, part poet, part mystic, part rebel, sensed the grandeur laying beneath the surface of the variegated soils on the plateau and hills in the shadow of Mont Baudille and decided, at a mere 20 years of age, to cobble together his own domaine.  In 1985, Olivier bottled his first vintage, quickly establishing himself as one of the most talented growers in all of southern France.  We have had the privilege of working with the wines of Mas Jullien almost from the outset of its existence having imported every vintage produced at the estate since 1986.

Over the past three decades, Olivier has been revealing the intricacies of terroir in his particular high-altitude zone of the Languedoc—planting different grape varieties in different plots on different soils, gauging the results, adjusting as necessary, and never succumbing to routine for its own sake. In a very real sense, he is performing the same foundational “unpeeling” of the land that, in more prized areas like Burgundy, was done many centuries ago. And, though his bottlings have been consequently quite variable over the years in terms of cuvee name, cepage, etc. (and thus sometimes challenging to fully comprehend), his wines have been unfailingly distinctive, impeccable, and cellar-worthy.

Mas Jullien’s 21 hectares are scattered around the village of Jonquieres, just north of Montpellier, 40 kilometers inland from the Mediterranean Sea. In contrast to much of the Languedoc, the vineyards in this zone—steep, rocky terraces on the Larzac plateau at the foot of Mont Baudille—reach altitudes of up to 900 meters, lending the resulting wines an acid profile and overall structure unique in the Languedoc (think finesse and complexity over mass and volume, though the wines do speak beautifully of ample sunshine). Soils here are diverse, ranging from limestone, to schist, to clay, to iron, to alluvial deposits, and Olivier has spent his career adjusting the “encepagement” and the zones from which the various bottlings draw. The below three new releases, reflect a rather elegant refinement of his approach: they are bottled, simply, according to their vineyard area.

To encourage early engagement with the new releases, we are offering the wines with attractive pricing during the first quarter of 2017.   This trio of wines will reach our shores the second week of January, and we heartily encourage you to share in our appreciation of the work of Olivier Jullien—one of the shining stars of our portfolio, and a vigneron who only continues to improve with age and experience.

2014 Mas Jullien “Carlan”
Some years ago, Olivier’s friend Carlan was taking a stroll in the forest near the town of Saint Privat, looking for a scenic spot to sit and play guitar, when he came across a vineyard in disrepair. He told Olivier, and Olivier acquired the vineyard and nursed it back to health—naming both vineyard and cuvee after his buddy. Carlan is a dramatically steep, east-facing vineyard composed entirely of terraces between 200 and 400 meters above sea level, with ultra-low-yielding vines between 45 and 75 years of age. The soil here, in contrast to the limestone of Jonquieres, is a combination of schist, sandstone, and iron. As with all of his holdings, Olivier works the vineyard completely organically, incorporating certain biodynamic practices as well. The final blend comprises around 60% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, and 10% Carignan and Syrah. Carlan undergoes a long, natural fermentation in cement, and thereafter spends a solid year in used 600-liter demi-muids. Due to its relatively high proportion of Grenache and its unique soil composition, this wine tends to be softer, more succulent, and more youthfully accessible than Olivier’s “classic” Jonquieres cuvees. In 2014 it is particularly charming and delicious, a reflection of a less sun-drenched growing season in this sector of the Languedoc. We will receive a mere 25 cases for the entire USA.

2014 Mas Jullien “Lous Rougeos”
Lous Rougeos (Occitan for “Les Rougeots”) is Olivier’s highest-altitude vineyard, a west-facing plot situated above the village of Saint Privat at 400 to 450 meters altitude. Composed of Carignan and Syrah, it is fermented and aged identically to Carlan above. However, given its different altitude, exposition, and cepage, the final wine is an altogether different beast. A beautiful, ringing acidity in this 2014 carries the drinker’s mind far away from the stereotypical heat of the Languedoc, and the wine’s overall impression of mineral-drenched freshness would be impressive even in the context of the Northern Rhone—or of Burgundy, for that matter. Olivier has always loved and respected Carignan for its particular affinity to the soils and climate of this part of the Languedoc, and for its ability to express profound minerality. This is a don’t-miss wine for those curious to see just how much finesse and verve a genius grower can coax out of a great terroir in the Languedoc. Again, only 25 cases are available for the USA.

2013 Mas Jullien “Autour de Jonquieres”
Aged an additional year in barrel compared to the duo above—in this case, a combination of demi-muid and large foudres—“Autour de Jonquieres” is closest in spirit to Olivier’s classic and beloved Mas Jullien “estate” rouge. Built on the back of old-vines Mourvedre (40%) planted in poor limestone soils, this cuvee contains roughly equal proportions Carignan and Syrah as well, also from very old, minuscule-yielding vines. This 2013 displays that uncanny combination of elegance and power that characterizes so many of France’s truly great wines. It is both rugged and refined, both tenacious and supple, with a harmony of elements that suggests great cellaring potential. In fact, although this wine is by no means tough or difficult at the moment, it will undoubtedly reveal increasingly complex pleasures over the next two decades at least—as bottle after bottle of Mas Jullien pulled from our collection over the years has so emphatically proven. For its complexity, profound terroir expression, visceral pleasure, and long age-ability, we wager that there are few greater values for serious red wine to be found in all of France than Mas Jullien.

Print This Post Print This Post